There's a better way

TOM BRODBECK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

Before everybody starts peeing their pants over David Asper's proposal to use taxpayer dollars to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, assume sole ownership of the team and capitalize on nearby retail opportunities rent-free on city land, we may want to look at some alternatives.

Asper got local sports buffs giggling like little schoolgirls over the weekend, proposing to build a smashing, new $120-million stadium -- mostly with taxpayers' dollars. In exchange for that, he wants Winnipeg to give up control of its community-owned team and hand over profits from proposed real estate development around the stadium.

You can be excused for asking: What's in it for Winnipeg taxpayers?

No doubt, this would be a great deal for David Asper. He would get government to pay for two-thirds of a new, rent-free stadium, which he would control and derive all profits from. He would get sole ownership of the team. And he would have exclusive access to develop real estate on the land around the stadium -- the most lucrative part of any future Bombers/stadium business plan.

What do taxpayers get? They get a new stadium for $80 million which would be owned de facto by Asper.

GOOD BUSINESS

The question really becomes, is it a good business move for taxpayers to sink $80 million into a stadium that hosts eight to 10 Bomber games a year?

Seems a bit steep.

The real story here is who gets access to the real estate opportunities around the stadium. No new stadium or facility upgrade proposal will work without capitalizing on the retail and hospitality opportunities that now exist for the Bombers.

The club negotiated a deal with the city a few years ago that not only gives them full access to the stadium for 50 years rent-free, it also gives the team exclusive access to develop the city-owned land around the stadium. Asper wants to inherit that agreement.

Who wouldn't? That's where the money is.

Asper knows that. He was on the Bomber board when it was negotiated.

Now he would like to invest $25 million of his own money into the real estate part of that deal, for a pretty good return on his investment. Which would be outstanding for the city. Winnipeg needs that kind of private capital.

The part that is not so great for taxpayers is having to pony up $80 million for a brand-new stadium, which is more than twice the amount of public money that went into the MTS Centre. It's a lot of money.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. One of them is right on the Bombers website -- a proposed redevelopment of the existing stadium into a first-class facility with more comfortable seating for fans. With the right real estate development around the stadium to help pay for it, it's an idea that could fly with minimal taxpayer exposure.

Granted, the redevelopment proposal is just at the idea stage. But it would cost far less than $120 million to do and it would be a much more realistic price tag for a CFL franchise.

Let's face it, there isn't a lot of money to be made in the CFL. It's barely viable.

And as much fun as it would be to blow $80 million on a stadium the team can't afford, it's simply not good stewardship of scarce public dollars. Especially when there are so many other pressing capital projects in this city, including the Floodway expansion, the city's combined sewer upgrade and our decrepit roads and highways.

Let's refurbish the stadium and develop the surrounding area to make the team a viable operation. But let's keep taxpayers' money out of it as much as possible.

It can be done.


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